About two years ago at its Lens Fest, Snap announced something that came and went with relatively little fanfare but it could represent a meaningful AR trend. Now known as In-Lens Digital Goods, they let AR creators offer in-app purchases for various paid experiences or digital goods.

This essentially expands the AR opportunity at Snap from a brand marketing channel – where it continues to thrive – to a revenue source. In other words, everyone from consumer brands to game publishers to media companies can drive direct revenue from Snap Lenses.

One such company to run with this idea is Killabears. The popular digital collectibles carry a sort of punkish retro-horror vibe with underground-comic stylings. It’s an NFT-driven product – part of the Killaverse family – that’s more approachable than most NFTs (more on that in a bit).

As for its foray into AR, Killabears launched an In-Lens Digital Goods campaign built around its illustrated characters that users can purchase and play with. We’re talking front-facing camera lenses that let users pose as, and share, 3D animated versions of their favorite Killabear.

AR Marketing Platform Profiles, Part I: Snap

Animations & Interactions

To bring this idea to market, Killabears’ lenses were developed in collaboration with Qreal and M7 Innovations. QReal – best in class for 3D animation – handled the technical work behind the interactions, while M7 quarterbacked the overall strategy and paid-lens dynamics.

According to M7’s Matt Maher, this involves a freemium approach with paid tiers that map to various user personas and demand levels. But at a baseline, the campaign offers freely available lenses for a handful of popular Killabears, thus making it more accessible and scalable.

Users who want to go a step further can unlock additional bears for 75 Snapcoins ($.99). For 125 Snapcoins ($1.99), the plot thickens with additional interactions and accouterments, such as colored grill/teeth. And at the top tier, 50 Snapcoins ($2.99) unlock the rarest Killabears.

In all cases, the Killabears IP is a good launch point for fun interactions given the playful nature of its characters. This is aligned with best practices in digital goods, set by the likes of Fortnite (think: dance moves) or other digital experiences that offer skins or fashion accessories.

And the results? As of this writing, the lenses have been viewed 615,000 times with 593,000 activations (a 96.5 percent activation rate). And they were shared 5,400 times. There’s also a good deal of momentum as the views have more than doubled in the last month alone.

More importantly, says Maher, 88 percent of users who purchased a lens came back and purchased again. Among all of the results and metrics, this speaks volumes he says, as users enjoyed the experience enough to come back a second time and vote with their wallets.

Lessons & Learnings

Considering the successes above, what are the executional best practices that we can point to? First, as many digital marketing execs and creative agencies will tell you, it’s all about starting with strong IP. Killabears is best in class when it comes to creativity and illustrative excellence.

But one challenge is to take that brand ethos and digital assets and adapt them to a different format – in this case from 2D to 3D. As Killabears co-founder and CEO Ben Cohen tells AR Insider, this is the case whenever you adapt formats – even getting brand colors right on a t-shirt.

This is where Mike Cadoux and company at QReal come into the picture. Their experience and agility with 3D animation – refined over years of animating the most difficult substance, food – made this all work. We’re talking about tall orders like emulating the texture of animated bear fur.

So you have the brand and its animated rendering… now you have to make it work as an AR lens. This is where Maher and M7 grabbed the baton. The pricing and interactions were thoughtfully devised, such as the tiers noted above, and animations like coloring Killabears’ teeth.

Speaking of teeth, another element that added interactivity was the lens activation event. Users can smile to activate the giant toothy grin of a given Killabears character lens (see video above). This not only makes it fun and interactive but drives some of the tiered transactions.

Altogether, these dynamics don’t just bring otherwise-2D characters to life but do so through front-facing camera lenses, as noted. This means users can be their favorite Killabear, including on-brand and character-driven animations that infuse an additional fun factor and viral kick.

AR and AI Lead at Lens Fest

Starting the Conversation

Panning back, a question that emerges from all the above is if In-Lens Digital Goods could be a bigger component of the overall consumer AR mix. Killabears is a prime candidate, given that it’s natively a digital good for which consumers have a proven and paid affinity.

Who else could this apply to? This will have to be proved in time. Meanwhile, another stakeholder is Snap itself. Paid digital goods align with other moves, such as Snapchat+, to diversify revenue at a time when advertising – its core revenue model – continues to face headwinds.

Of course, in-app payments are easier said than done. AR experiences that ask users to pay for digital goods are mostly unproven and will require more experimentation. Then again, one of AR’s most successful businesses to date, Pokémon Go, is based on this very model.

If Killabears is any indication, this can work beyond Pokémon. In fact, the entire experience – meant initially as a brand-extension play – opened Cohen’s eyes to paid AR lenses as a potential piece of the Killaverse revenue mix. It’s comparatively small today but that seed could grow.

In the meantime, AR lenses align with another principle in Cohen’s playbook which is to make digital collectibles approachable. He admits that most of the Web 3 and NFT worlds– where Killabears very much resides – have been too intimidating and complex for broader audiences.

So his goal is to build a bridge from Web 2 to Web 3. This can be seen in the brand itself, including the playful nature of the IP, and other moves the company has made to market it. Lens-ifying the brand was just the latest play in that playbook, and we can likely expect more.

“Web 3 has lots of jargon and it’s tough for people who aren’t interested to get there,” he says. “But if you let them play with something familiar, then you can start the conversation.”

More from AR Insider…